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The Rassie 'recipe' that will be unleashed on Ireland

OPINION: The make-up of the replacement bench may get more headlines, but the starting XV of Rassie Erasmus’ selection holds the key to the opening Test in the two-match series between South Africa and Ireland.

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The Springboks host the men from the Emerald Isle at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, before the No.1 versus No.2 road show moves to Kings Park a week later.

As always, many pundits will put forth their conjectures about the make-up of the bench.

The seven-forwards-and-one-back combination remains a remote option.

As does the six-two split.

I punt for a five-three option in Pretoria’s series opener.

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More important, for me, is the selection that will start.

Knowing Erasmus – prone as he is to mind games – will most likely lean heavily on the combination that beat New Zealand 12-11 in the World Cup Final at Stade de France in Paris in October.

The first port of call is to check who is not available.

Of the eight players out of contention for selection due to injury, three featured in the historic fourth World Cup win – Steven Kitshoff, Jean Kleyn and Damian Willemse.

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That is my starting point.

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It means a fullback is required and who better than Willie Le Roux, the only back on the bench in Paris.

He has everything required for the big occasion – calm, collected and vision.

If you still had any doubt about his influence, look at the difference in the Bulls’ attack when he played in the 25-20 win over Leinster in the United Rugby Championship Final and a week later in the 16-21 loss to Glasgow Warriors in the Final.

The rest of the backline from the World Cup Final – Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe, Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk are all available.

A case can be made for Lukhanyo Am at outside centre, but a lack of game time and subsequent slump in form is why I am leaning towards Kriel.

Grant Williams could challenge De Klerk for a starting spot, but is more likely to get a run off the more traditional bench as a utility.

Duane Vermeulen has retired to the coaches’ box, which means there will be a new No.8.

With Cameron Hanekom injured, Evan Roos has a golden opportunity to cement a starting spot – unless Erasmus goes to his other jack-in-the-box Kwagga Smith.

The advantage of Smith – and why Erasmus may lean towards him – is his breakdown work and harassing play.

Roos is the more direct player.

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With Kitshoff injured, Ox Nche looks set to get a start.

The rest of the pack – Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (confirmed as captain), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe and Bongi Mbonambi – are all available.

Erasmus may opt to start with Malcolm Marx and see how far he can push him, as he did against Wales last week.

However, another two weeks in camp may convince the coach that Marx is the better bench option.

With Deon Fourie injured and Nche promoted, the bench will have a very different look.

Hooker is decided, unless injuries intervene.

Vincent Koch, Thomas du Toit, Trevor Nyakane and Gerhard Steenekamp give Erasmus plenty of front row options.

Ben-Jason Dixon is a readymade second/third row option off the bench.

If Roos starts, Smith will be on the bench and vice versa.

De Klerk and Williams will fill the two No.9 berths in the matchday 23.

Aphelele Fassi, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Manie Libbok ensure there is plenty of utility options on the bench – but I may opt for the Fassi and Feinberg-Mngomezulu selection.

Then, again, I am not Erasmus and he is prone to a few surprises.

Potential starting XV: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Vincent Koch, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Ben-Jason Dixon, 20 Evan Roos, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Aphelele Fassi, 23 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu.

@king365ed
@rugby365com

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In this episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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